By Rob Patrick
CONWAY — The Bryant Hornets’ game against the Conway Wampus Cats at Buzz Bolding Arena began in[more] all-too-familiar fashion, not only for a Bryant team playing at Conway but for this Bryant team in the last couple of games. Nothing was going the Hornets’ way.
The Cats jumped out to a 10-3 lead the surged to a 22-7 advantage in the second quarter. And before the half was through, the Conway advantage expanded to as much as 16.
Somehow, though, the Hornets staged a scintillating comeback in the second half and not only caught up but passed the Cats then holding on for a 54-51 win, the first for a Bryant boys team at Conway since the two teams started playing each other regularly in 2002-03.
“These kids really deserve what happened in the second half because they’ve worked so hard and they play so hard and they’re such high-character kids and things haven’t been going our way lately,” stated Hornets coach Mike Abrahamson. “They’ve been playing hard, fighting through it. They’ve been coming early and staying late at practice. They’ve been digging in and fighting harder instead of packing it in and giving up. They deserve a night where they catch the breaks and they deserve a night where they get the calls and a night where they hit the shots. I’m proud of them.”
It was a crucial win in many ways. The Hornets, after opening play in the 7A/6A-Central Conference with a win over Little Rock Catholic had dropped back-to-back league contests including an unexpected setback at Van Buren.
Beating Conway evened their league mark going into a home game against Cabot on Friday.
“We’ve got great kids,” Abrahamson reiterated. “They work hard every day. I thought they played extremely hard last week (in the losses). Things didn’t go our way. We didn’t play well. It was more of the same in the first half tonight. We couldn’t catch a break. Conway was playing really well and we couldn’t get the ball to go in the bucket.”
Brantley Cozart, who would lead all scorers with 21 points in the game, had a three-point play and a late free throw that had Bryant within 15-7 at the end of the first quarter. But Conway’s Tim Boyd hit a 3 to start the second and the lead grew to 22-8 before Jordan Griffin hit a layup off a Wampus Cat turnover with 4:51 left in the half for Bryant’s first field goal of the period.
Conway’s Kevin Guiden scored off the offensive glass and Everett Reed (13 points, 11 rebounds) hit two free throws as did DeSean Turner to push the margin to 30-14 with 1:39 left in the half.
At that point, the Hornets showed a spark, a glimpse of what was to come. Cozart drained a 15-footer and, at the other end, Quinton Motto blocked a shot by Frazier. Though Bryant’s Anthony Black couldn’t get a shot to go, Conway’s last-season attempt never developed as Cozart took a charge.
At the half, Conway led 30-16.
“We took six charges,” Abrahamson noted. “I’m really proud of that. Maybe we frustrated them. The charges, the way we were helping each other out, that was big for us tonight because we really felt it was important to guard the ball and try to keep the ball out of the middle. Those (Conway) guys are really good so that was easier said than done. We definitely went into the game feeling like there was going to be a lot of charge opportunities and those are opportunities for us to get the ball back and score.
“Going into the game, another key was us not turning the ball over,” he added. “(Conway) is great in offensive transition. They feed off their defense so we know, if we don’t turn it over, that’s a shot that we get to take instead of a shot that we don’t get to take, which means more points eventually, which means they have to run more of a half-court offense, they don’t get in transition which is their strength.”
The Hornets committed just 11 turnovers while forcing 19.
“We just challenged them at halftime to play with the fire that they practice with every day and to understand that they’ve worked so hard and they didn’t do all that work to just cave, come out here and play bad, that eventually it was going to turn around,” Abrahamson related. “We were able to come out and make some shots in the second half then we had to press because we had to come back. It just all played in our favor. We started catching some breaks, they started missing some shots and we were making shots.”
The initial salvo came right at the start of the half when, using a trapping defense, the Hornets put together a quick 7-0 run. Cozart canned a triple and, after a turnover, Motto fed Griffin for a bucket. Griffin then picked up a loose ball and passed ahead to Black for a layup that cut the lead to 30-23.
After a timeout, however, Conway countered. Free throws by Reed, Dominic Taylor and Guiden plus a running jumper by Guiden had the Cats back up by 13, 36-23 and it looked like they may have weathered the storm.
But Cozart got the rally going again with a 3. Guiden answered but then Motto made a steal that led to a free throw by Griffin. Though he missed the second shot, Marcus Wilson hustled to get the carom and fed Cozart for another 3-point bomb.
As a result, Conway’s lead was 38-30 going into the fourth quarter.
A 3 by Conway’s Garan Davis started the final period, making it an 11-point game but the Hornets kept coming. Wilson fed Motto inside for a layup then Motto returned the favor on the next possession and Wilson flushed a trey as the lead dwindled to 6.
Wilson then took a charge as Boyd drove the lane and Griffin took advantage for a driving jumper to make it 41-37.
Motto tried to take another charge but the call went Conway’s way this time and Boyd’s three-point play was the result. But that only proved to be an interruption in the Hornets’ rally. Cozart dished to Griffin for a layup and, on the next defensive trip, Motto earned the charge against Reed to give Bryant a chance to cut it to 1 or tie it with a 3.
Black came up with the 3 that drew them even after taking a kick-out from Griffin.
Conway took a timeout but Black and Cozart combined on a steal. Neither Cozart nor Motto could get a shot to go and Reed was fouled. He converted twice to put Conway back ahead with 3:17 to go. Cozart, however, assisted on a reverse layup by Motto to knot it up again.
This time, the Hornets forced a turnover and when Cozart converted a jumper in the lane, the Hornets had taken their first lead of the game with 1:57 to go.
That may have been the basket of the game. So often, teams that make comebacks expend so much energy wiping out the deficit, if they don’t go ahead and gain the lead while they’re at it, they run out of steam and fall back.
Cozart’s bucket forced another Conway timeout and, when play resumed, Davis was fouled. He missed the front end, however, and with Conway having only been cited for five fouls in the half to that point, the Hornets spread the floor and made them chase.
The Wampus Cats used up two of those but then Black found a gap in the defense and attacked the basket for a layup that made it a two-possession game. Conway’s Xavier Clardy answered inside with :41 left but, with :29 to go, Black stepped to the line and coolly converted both ends of the bonus to push it back to a two-possession lead, 52-48.
Davis hit a free throw but Cozart canned a pair with :13.9 left to seal the victory despite a last-second basket by Reed to set the final score.
To go with Cozart’s 21, Griffin, Black and Motto had 10 each for Bryant. With Reed’s 13, Guiden finished with 10 while Boyd, the Cats’ leading scorer, was held to 9.
“We were definitely going to pick up the pressure (in the second half) but the thing is we’ve got to score to do that to some degree,” Abrahamson explained. “On offense, we went away from the pick-and-roll and went to more of a dribble-drive. We were able to get it to Quinton on the baseline a few times and we were able to get some shooters free and make shots. Guys like Brantley stepped up. He really played well in that second half. Jordan did a great job of guarding (Boyd) and handling the ball. He hit a few shots and Anthony hit a few shots.
“It was such a physical game and the officials were letting it be physical, letting us play, and it was very physical down low,” he mentioned. “Quinton just stuck with it and, by the end of the game, he was finishing some and scoring some for us and being a threat. He didn’t shy away from it.
“I’m just really proud of all of them,” the coach concluded.
BRYANT 54, CONWAY 51
Score by quarters
BRYANT 7 9 14 24 — 54
Conway 15 13 8 13 — 51
HORNETS (10-6, 2-2) 54
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Griffin 4-10 1-2 2-1 3 1 10
Black 3-11 3-4 2-2 4 1 10
Cozart 7-13 4-5 1-1 2 3 21
Neale 0-0 0-0 1-0 1 4 0
Motto 4-9 2-4 3-2 5 2 10
Hewett 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 0 0
Cambron 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 1 0
Wilson 1-3 0-0 1-3 4 3 3
Trudell 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
S.Davis 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 1 0
Rainey 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Rayburn 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 0 0
Team 0-0 0
Totals 19-47 10-15 10-13 23 16 54
WAMPUS CATS (11-6, 1-3) 51
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Boyd 3-11 1-1 0-3 3 2 9
Guiden 4-5 2-2 2-0 2 2 10
G.Davis 1-2 1-2 1-1 2 4 4
Clardy 1-6 0-0 2-4 6 4 2
Reed 3-4 7-11 4-7 11 2 13
Taylor 0-2 1-2 0-0 0 3 1
Leon 2-4 0-0 1-1 2 1 4
Turner 1-2 2-2 0-0 0 1 4
Walder 2-3 0-0 0-1 1 0 4
Team 2-4 6
Totals 17-39 14-20 12-21 33 19 51
Three-point field goals: Bryant 6-21 (Cozart 3-9, Griffin 1-5, Black 1-3, Wilson 1-3, Trudell 0-1), Conway 3-11 (Boyd 2-6, G.Davis 1-2, Taylor 0-1, Leon 0-1, Walder 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 11, Conway 19.